By Caroline Colebrook
THE ENGLISH Defence League (EDL) boasted that their planned march and rally in the East End of London would be a national event marking a turning point in the fortunes of the far-right violent Islamophobic organisation of neo-Nazis, football hooligans and other thugs.
They intended to hold their march through Tower Hamlets’ Muslim community. But that community, along with anti-fascists from Hope not Hate, trade unionists and other activists campaigned for a ban on that march that that was aimed at bringing provocation, hatred and violence to the East End.
They produced a 25,000-signature petition to Home Secretary Theresa May.
The police have officially still failed to recognise the EDL as an extremist organisation but, after the riots of last month, the Metropolitan Police decided to support the request for a ban on the march.
But the EDL still insisted on their statutory right to a static demonstration.
Meanwhile Unite Against fascism organised a big counter demonstration.
One the day the whole area of Aldgate and Whitechapel filled up with hundreds of police vans – including contingents from Strathclyde, Norwich Cumbria in the morning.
The UAF demonstration began at 11am in the east of the area attended by several thousand, including groups of Muslim youths from the local community, who patrolled their own streets. More mature members of the Muslim community also patrolled as official stewards with a main aim of keeping the peace and preventing damage or injury.
The EDL demonstration was not due to start until 2pm and reports came in of large numbers arriving and causing trouble in pubs around the Kings Cross area and that members of the RMT transport union had closed access to the Tube Station to keep them out of London’s Underground.
Then there were reports that some had reached the pubs around Liverpool Street, close to Aldgate. But it was getting on for 3pm before a small group appeared waving flags, shouting and gesticulating.
They were soon joined by others but there were never more than around 1,000 at the official protest. Some stragglers and late-comers ended up wandering lost around the area.
The thousands of police surrounding the EDL halted them in the main road in front of the Aldgate Tower for their rally.
The UAF and their supporters marched up to the end of Whitechapel High Street but were kept well apart from the EDL.
EDL leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon arrived disguised as a mock rabbi. After removing his disguise he have a speech in which he boasted that he was breaching the conditions of his bail, imposed recently at Luton and South Bedfordshire Magistrates’ Court. He had appeared there for an alleged assault during a demonstration in April in Blackburn.
Police charged into the EDL crowd to arrest him and there was some confusion over whether they had succeeded but by evening Yaxley-Lennon was definitely in custody. According to latest reports he has begun a hunger strike in protest at being denied his “human right” to insult, provoke and beat up those who disagree with him.
After a couple of hours it dawned on some of the EDL members that their protest was not actually in Tower Hamlets. The Griffin that marks the City of London boundary was a couple of hundred yards to the east of the EDL rally. They were still in the City; they had not even set foot in Tower Hamlets.
A few tried in vain to charge the heavy police cordon. Thunder-flashes were thrown and there were heavy scuffles and 16 arrests. Eventually police escorted them away across Tower Bridge and into waiting coaches.
Later that evening a rogue coach full of EDL supporters strayed down Whitechapel High Street, where it stopped outside the mosque as those on board shouted insults and abuse.
The coach was soon surrounded by angry Muslim youths who broke some of the coach windows. An EDL woman was injured in the fracas that followed but was rescued by Muslim stewards from the mosque.
Police soon flooded the area, commandeered a bus, put the EDL members on it and sent them out of the area. According to some reports it then broke down, according to others the driver became so exasperated he simply stopped it and walked away.
Once again the EDL passengers were on the street and 44 of them were arrested.